Slashifying the Classics Part II: Poe

masqueTHE MASQUE OF THE RED DEATH

3 Stars  1989/18/89m

“Death is the life and soul of the party.”

Director: Alan Birkinshaw / Writers: Edgar Allan Poe & Michael J. Murray / Cast: Herbert Lom, Michelle McBride, Frank Stallone, Brenda Vaccaro, Christina Lunde, Simon Poland, Christobel d’Ortez, Foziah Davidson, Lindsay Reardon, Godfrey Charles.

Body Count: 10


Shot in South Africa, this is one of two adaptations of Poe’s story shot in 1989, morphed into a masquerade ball slasher pic by screenwriter Michael Murray. In this version, a red caped and masked fiend sends a group of attendees to the slab.

Pretty McBride is a journalist who snuck in to try and get some snaps and a story from loudmouth soap star Vaccaro at the final party of the mysterious Ludwig (Lom) in his creepy Bavarian castle. Those up for the chop include actors, designers, and doctors with whom he is somewhat intimately associated. They’re offed by sword, axe, and even razor sharp pendulum.

Frank Stallone gets top billing for his rather marginal part, but McBride carries the weight of the film as the sympathetic – and ever so slightly simpleminded – heroine. Lom is good in his is he/isn’t he role of host.

Most observers have dismissed this as a travesty to Poe’s work, but if an interesting take on the tale, marred by the revelation of the rather comedic killer, which unearths a couple more twists before a rather satisfying end to their evildoings. Silly laughs do divert proceedings time and again, although there’s one honest gag at the end of the credits which is worth hanging on for.

Blurb-of-interest: Birkinshaw directed British oddity Killer’s Moon in 1978.

Slashifying the Classics

phantom of the opera 1989 robert englund

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA

3.5 Stars  1989/18/89m

“Only love and music are forever.”

Director: Dwight H. Little / Writers: Gaston Leroux & Duke Sandefur / Cast: Robert Englund, Jill Schoelen, Alex Hyde-White, Bill Nighy, Stephanie Lawrence, Terence Harvey, Nathan Lewis, Peter Clapham, Molly Shannon.

Body Count: 10

Laughter Lines: “Everybody dies. I only choose the time and place for a few.”


Robert Englund likely sailed through any audition process to play another homicidal burn victim, in the 83rd take on the Gaston Leroux novel – although any associations with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical are mercifully absent.

One-time scream queen Jill Schoelen is Christine, a young operative vocalist who spins back to her previous life in nineteenth century London after a bang on the head at an audition. When the Phantom scares the wits out of the Faust Diva, Christine takes over, while the Phantom knocks off anyone who gets in the way of her success.

Largely shot in Budapest, the slasher elements are brought to the fore, with victims decapitated, gutted, and impaled in several gruesome scenes, that were significantly cut down to avoid an X-rating. The producer almost bankrupted himself pouring money into the film, which subsequently tanked.

phantom of the opera 1989 jill schoelen robert englund

Despite this, Englund looks to relish flexing his acting muscle without having a razor glove attached to him, and Elemer Ragalyi’s lush photography fashions a fine looking film. The cast, too, is peppered with recognisable faces and before-they-were-famous names. Perhaps the concept of and upgraded slasher film or downgraded classic, depending how you look at it, is what killed it in the end, but at least it makes for an arty and credible diversion from the usual teens-at-a-party slasher fare. A sequel planned to take place in New York (The Phantom Takes Manhattan?) starring Englund was eventually canned.

Blurbs-of-interest: Aside from playing Freddy Krueger in eight movies, Englund can also be found in Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie VernonHatchetHeartstopper, and Urban Legend; Schoelen was in The StepfatherCutting Class, and Popcorn; Terence Harvey was later in similar 19th century slasher variant From Hell; Dwight H. Little directed Halloween 4 the previous year.

Separate Chapters

the dark half 1993

THE DARK HALF

2.5 Stars  1993/18/116m

“Serious writer or serial killer. Thad Beaumont is in two minds.”

Director/Writer: George A. Romero / Writer: Stephen King / Cast: Timothy Hutton, Amy Madigan, Michael Rooker, Julie Harris, Robert Joy, Chelsea Field, Royal Dano, Rutanya Alda, Beth Grant, Kent Broadhurst, Tom Mardirosian, Glenn Colerider.

Body Count: 10


Given that Stephen King wrote the book, Night of the Living Dead creator George A. Romero directed it, and it’s almost two hours long, this is a strangely uninvolving venture, shot in 1991 and released two years later due to financial problems with the studio.

King adaptations are difficult creatures to grasp – for every Carrie or Misery there’s a Sleepwalkers or Maximum Overdrive (which a coked-out King directed himself) - so it’s kind of neither here nor there that The Dark Half vanishes between the extremes: Not a bad film, but not a particularly interesting one either.

As a kid, Thad Beaumont suffers from strange episodes where he hears sparrows. Doctors later find evidence of a twin absorbed in utero - there’s an icky scene where a blind eye opens up inside his exposed brain. Once removed, Thad grows up to be a struggling author – been there, bud – on the verge of a breakthrough and, in the meantime, teaching creative writing students about allowing that darker self through in their work.

dark half timothy hutton

Thad is soon blackmailed by a shady guy who has found out that he’s been writing low end, high selling trash novels under the nom de plume George Stark. His agents advise him to own it and a publicity stunt is staged where he and loyal wife, Liz, mock-bury Stark in a local cemetery – and that’s where the horror begins.

First to go is the publicity stunt photographer, who is beaten to death with his own prosthetic leg, then the blackmailer is found dead… Local Sheriff Alan Pangborn informs Thad that his fingerprints are found at the scenes, but how can he be in two places at once? Schizo-Haute Tension shenanigans going down? Or is George Stark real somehow? And what’s with the sparrows?

I’m not sure as to Stephen King’s opinions on slasher movies, but I wouldn’t think they were particularly favourable, but the elements at work in The Dark Half do verge into that territory, with ‘George’ continuing to off people important to Thad, agents, interviewers, cops assigned to protective duty, and the doctor who backfills the story about the twin-that-never-was… The usual luckless schmucks really. There is a scene later with some psychobabble that attempts to make sense of it, providing Thad with his possible out, and giving Stark time to abduct Liz and the kids.

dark half 1993

The sparrows eventually come to help out in a Birds-esque scene, that’s pretty inventive, but I just never felt particularly attached to anybody’s plight. Hutton, apparently difficult to work with on set, just doesn’t seem to care a great deal about the fates of his friends and colleagues, and even his infant twins seem like they might just be expendable. On the plus side, I was glad that things didn’t turn out to just be all in his head, and the higher-end production gloss helps, but I never need to see it again.

Blurbs-of-interest: Timothy Hutton was later in #Horror; Michael Rooker was in Skeleton Man; Rutanya Alda was also in Girls Nite Out and You Better Watch Out; Beth Grant was the mean teacher in Child’s Play 2; Julie Harris was in Home for the Holidays.

Rankfest: Children of the Corn

I’m pretty sure OneRepublic found influence for their international hit Stop and Stare in the Children of the Corn films, as there’s a whooooole lot of that going on. Staring. Kids in creepy clothes with dork-ass names like Jedidiah and Mortichai. Always staring.

At the of writing I haven’t ‘experienced’ Children of the Corn: Runaway (2018), but I’ve not read a whole lot of positive, so I’ll get back to y’all on that.

*

9th best: Genesis (2011)

children of the corn genesis

Holy House Plants, this reboot stinks! A budget south of the cost of renting the car in which a young couple drive to become stranded – almost nothing happens for the entire run time of the movie and it re-uses car chase footage from fucking Bad Boys II.

*

8th: Children of the Corn (2009)

children of the corn 2009

For all the critical rocks pitched at the 1984 original, it’s at least nowhere near as boring as this made-for-TV more ‘faithful’ adaptation of King’s short story (which was way shorter than I ever thought). Burt and Vicky are drawn as horrendous people, so why not cheer on the Children? Because they suck just as hard, especially the 8-year-old playing Isaac, who can barely fill his oversized hat, let alone the shoes of John Franklin.

*

7th: Isaac’s Return (1999)

children of the corn 666 isaac's return

COTC‘s H20 moment: Isaac didn’t die after all and has just been in a coma all this time! So when the daughter of his and Rachel (the girl in the church) turns up looking for info about her past and Isaac wakes up, the usual occurs. Notable only for He Who Walks Behind the Rows appearing in human form, but almost nothing else.

*

6th: Revelation (2001)

children of the corn revelation

 Claudette Mink goes to visit grandma, who has (very recently) disappeared. Various residents of the same housing complex start falling victim to the glarey children hanging around the locale. A few familiar faces from low-end horror and not terrible production quality, but nothing new is brought to the table either. Corn with corn it is, then.

*

5th: Urban Harvest (1995)

children of the corn iii

Brothers Joshua and Eli are Gatlin orphans fostered by an LA couple. Eli brings with him a few cobs, which he plants in a lot behind the house and goes about corrupting his high school classmates. Notable for Chalize Theron appearing as an extra and the world’s cheapest looking monster.

*

4th: The Gathering (1996)

children of the corn iv

Naomi Watts goes home to stay with unhinged mom, Karen Black, and her younger siblings, when the kids in town start getting sick and killing their parents. It’s remarkable how many future stars started off battling these brats.

*

3rd: Fields of Terror (1998)

children of the corn 5

And now Eva Mendes’ turn to go up against homicidal little shits as she and buddies break down outside of town where a cult convinces people to jump into a silo, Eva included. Despite its undeniable naffness, there’s a sense of late-90s fun to it all and nobody looks to be taking it too seriously. Eyes peeled for Kane Hodder as a barman.

*

2nd: The Final Sacrifice (1992)

children of the corn ii

The only legitimate direct sequel to the events of Gatlin sees the orphaned kiddies sent to temporarily live with the good folks of neighbouring Hemingford, where people soon start dying all over again. Death by hijacked electric wheelchair, the nosebleed from hell, and a cute send up of The Wizard of Oz are highlights.

*

The Best One: Children of the Corn (1984)

children of the corn 1984

It may not have been wanted Stephen King wanted – he likened the experience to sending his daughter off to college with high hopes only for her to do drugs and get raped – but it’s clearly the best of its series, with offbeat performances from John Franklin as Isaac, and Courtney Gains, as Malichai. Uneven, sure, but still a bit creepy.

*

So, objectively, none of these films are ‘good’, but a few of them have some cheesy rewatchability if nothing else. Anyone for a OneRepublic sing-along while we chomp some Green Giant?

The Art of the Kill

malevolence 2004MALEVOLENCE

3.5 Stars  2004/15/86m

“Ma-lev-o-lence; evil, disposed to injure others.”

Director/Writer: Stevan Mena / Cast: Samantha Dark, Brandon Johnson, Heather Magee, Courtney Bertolone, Richard Glover, John Richard Ingram, Keith Chambers, Kevin McKelvy.

Body Count: 5


A much-praised micro-budget ($70k) homage to slashers of olde, the work of cinematographer Tsuyoshi Kimoto is the star here. His ability to frame and compose angles to wring as much tension as possible out of what little there is visible on screen in the dark compensates for many of the film’s shortcomings.

A kid is abducted in 1989. Ten years later (never nine, never eleven) a quartet of bank robbers make a break for freedom and end up separated. One succumbs to a gunshot wound, leaving his sister and her boyfriend to bury him, making them late for the rendezvous with the fourth member of the group, who has had to take a woman and daughter hostage in his bid to commandeer an escape vehicle.

malevolence 2004

Unfortunately for them all, the chosen point of their regrouping is also dangerously close to the shut-down Sutter Farm, where it seems a serial killer hangs out. When the young daughter escapes and ends up there looking for help, robber dude meets a nasty end, leaving his remaining compatriots to discover the captive mother and only $40k of their almost half-a-mill haul.

The killer appropriates a sheet mask from Dead Robber #2, one not dissimilar to Jason’s sack-mask in Friday 2, emphasized by the check shirt and dungaree ensemble he also rocks. Then, he hangs around in the back of the frame, slowly venturing closer while the two remaining felons argue over what to do next, and mom whines for the return of her daughter.

malevolence 2004

Halloween is also aped to shit, from the bluish hue the film carries after dark, to the distinctive angles that make the old farmhouse look claustrophobic. Off-centre shots pose on-going questions about where the loon is hiding, creating a decent amount of nail-biting. When the blows come, they’re strangely tame, with only a few on-screen murders even occurring. Anyone who’s seen late-90s rarity Freak will notice an overlap in the subdued approach to displaying anything graphic.

So that’s the good. In spite of the acclaim Mena received for delivering a good lookin’ indie flick for the cost of a new car, he seems to have trouble goading convincing performances out of the cast, who present a very stagey approach, as if they’re deliberately not looking over their shoulder when anyone else would sense that other presence in the room. This leaves the film lacking a strong connection with any of the characters because they’re just not very convincing, a trend which I noticed again in Malevolence 3 (the middle film, Bereavement, had a couple of names but I can’t remember much of it now). The mother-child combo should evoke a much deeper level of concern than it does.

malevolence 2004

The killer’s identity also offers little to gasp about. An overlong epilogue where the FBI swoop in to stitch up some Q&A feels out of place and wouldn’t be resolved until the third movie came along 14 years later.

A beautiful experiment on a visual level, but the script can’t keep that flame out of the breeze, sadly.

Blurbs-of-interest: Brandon Johnson was in similarly minimalist slasher Little Erin Merryweather; Kevin McKelvy reprised his role in the third film.

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